If you’re lucky, you recognize Dan Lamb as one of the Dickensian-costumed carolers serenading passersby during the Holiday in the Village celebration. If you’re slightly less lucky, he might look more familiar in a judge’s robe, sitting on the bench as the Saugerties town court justice. Lamb has lived in Saugerties his entire life, all 61 years of it, and he raised two sons here (Alex, 28, and Max, 25) with his wife, Joan. In addition to serving two decades as a local court judge, he runs his own private practice from a big, beautiful Victorian building at the intersection of Main and Market streets. Before becoming a town justice, Lamb was the Saugerties town attorney, a member of the Board of Directors of Ulster Health Foundation at Kingston Hospital, and has provided numerous pro bono legal services for a number of organizations in town, including the Historical Society. Opponent Lanny Walter hasn’t raised any concerns about Lamb’s performance or qualifications, mainly focusing on his own qualifications and the inherent need for turnover in local elected office. A registered Republican, Lamb’s run for another term as judge has been endorsed by the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Saugerties United parties.
Why are you running for office?
It’s a great job. It is the court closest to the people. I think I am in tune with the people who live in Saugerties. I understand them. I’m experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of the law, both civil and criminal. I have experience both as a prosecutor and as town attorney, and I also did defense work in various justice courts. I’m fair, impartial, and being the town judge is a great job because I actually think I have an impact on people’s lives and families, for the better, many times. It’s a very rewarding job. You feel you’re doing a real service to the people. I enjoy this job. I love this job, actually, otherwise I wouldn’t put up with the aggravation, like when I get a call at 2 a.m. in the morning and I have to get out of bed in the middle of winter.
What are the benefits to your experience in office?
Technical knowledge of helping to administer a court that handles a significant number of cases and a fair amount of revenue. Knowing who to call, who to interact with. I know how the system works. Things need to be reported, so there’s a technical aspect that I think is something I know. I certainly learned it on a job that has become increasingly more complex. We are directly tied into the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Division of Criminal Justice Services, and it’s become much more of a technologically-sophisticated operation.
Also, I have years of experience as an attorney in both criminal and civil matters. I’ve worked with families in Family Court and Surrogates Court, and I’ve practiced in almost all of the courts, so I think I’m extremely knowledgeable in the law. For 19 years, I’ve continued my education on various aspects of town and village justice courts, handling criminal matters, handling evictions, so I’m extremely knowledgeable on the type of law that needs to be administered in the justice court. I also feel that I am aware of what’s going on in the community, having raised sons in this community, having lived here all my life, the economics of the community, some of the personal dynamics of the community, and based on that, I think I can apply the law in a way that is beneficial for the people of the community. We’re not a wealthy community. I see judges who just come down with maximum sentences. They do it to be tough, but it’s really not helping the people who live here. You want them to have a driver’s license. We want to make them able to get it reinstated when they’ve fouled up because they stuck the ticket in the glove compartment. You don’t want to hammer them over the head so they’re poorer than they were before. I think it’s working with people in order to help them be law-abiding.
Are there any drawbacks to occupying the seat for that length of time (20 years)?
You have to put in perspective: We elect judges for Family Court for ten-year terms. We elect Supreme Court judges for 14-year terms. We appoint Federal Court judges to serve for the balance of their life. I think that, in the perspective of how long I’ve been there, we like to respect service, and we like to think that with length of service comes wisdom and knowledge that helps you better perform your function, so I don’t really believe there are any drawbacks. If you get to the point where you don’t enjoy the position, then you should leave it. But, if you’re able to perform at a high level and you enjoy it, we shouldn’t really think about length of time. No one complained when Maurice Hinchey was our assemblymen and then moved on as congressmen and served 30-some years, maybe longer. I think that’s really an artificial issue. In retrospect, it’s really not that long; it’s really just a flash in the eye.
What’s the most interesting case that’s come before you?
I think the most interesting and also the hardest are people with mental health issues. It’s increasingly frustrating to me, the decline in the quantity and quality of mental health services, and it’s a challenge to deal with those cases because, sometimes, people are not really responsible for their actions. It’s trying to see that they get appropriate services, and that’s difficult, and at the same time, erring on the side of caution. We’re not psychiatrists, but we have to protect the community, and we also often have to protect defendants from themselves. That takes a fair amount of experience, knowledge and dedication. In some of these cases, I spend literally hours monitoring how they’re doing in jail. Are they seeing people in pre-trial release? Are they getting the services? Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Sometimes, that means having people come in every two weeks when I sit on the bench just to check on how they’re doing. Mental health cases are really tough now.
What’s your message to voters?
Over the years, I’ve well-served the community in an honest, intelligent and diligent manner. You have to earn the respect of your community, and you have to earn the respect of your fellow citizens. You do that by performance. My performance over the years is such that I am the person most qualified for the job, and I should be returned to office.